Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Iceland May 2016 Part 3 The long road north.

Suitably rested I was up early on our first morning. Not caring about my next door neighbours I chose to flush the toilet next to their room several times just for the hell of it. Not sure which Far Eastern country they came from but they had brought their own green tea leaves which had been emptied in the waste paper bin and looked more like cabbage than tea such was the size of the leaves. The shower room was even worse, the floor was flooded and the water had chilled down overnight. Thankfully we were only staying that one night although in fairness the room had been perfectly fine other than the need for soundproofing.
I went downstairs to the coffee station and spotted Mike outside already having explored the beach area. We decided to drive back down to the bridge and have a crack at the Skuas. Unfortunately though the tide was well on it's way out and the Terns were fishing an awful long way out, and as  a result the Skuas were well out of range too. Shame as some of the flight movements would have been great to capture in more detail. This hugely cropped shot is about half a mile away.
Artic Skua     Iceland
With little to photograph other than a curious Grey Seal that popped up now and again, and some rather distant Eider Ducks  we decided there was little point in hanging around. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and to ready ourselves for departure. After being reprimanded for starting to help myself to the buffet breakfast 15 minutes before the official breakfast time, I slunk back to a table to await the due hour. A Scottish couple did likewise and got away with it, the owner manager being in the kitchen at the time, and a chat with them revealed they were the typical bird watching couple. Jack was really keen, his dutiful other half just tagging along and putting up with those long inactive hours sat waiting for something to happen. We bumped in to them a couple of days later and she seemed happy enough. I don't think Claire would have been hence the reason to go with Mike!
Anyway, breakfast turned out to be the best of the week with a huge buffet selection once it had all been put out ( Sorry boss, it was worth waiting to see the choice unspoilt by early diners!) and that completed we headed off due west to explore the potential beyond Borgarnes.
We were soon on to a calling Redshank sat on a sign post.
<untitled> 42016-05-16
I think Mike's camera gear was still packed away so I lent him my big lens whilst I got to try my newly acquired 100-400mm zoom for the very first time.
<untitled> 82016-05-16
Not too bad! I think the sign is something to do with no shooting but I might be wrong.
Driving on a bit further we spotted two large birds in a lake a short distance from the road. 
"Great Northern Divers!" I declared.
We stopped the car, changed boots etc and headed off to get a closer view and hopefully some shots. They turned out to be Red-throated Divers, my poor call although in fairness with the sun behind them their grey bodies appeared black.
Never mind, hopefully we would find some more sooner or later. The big deal about Great Northerns is that the only place they breed in Europe is Iceland. If you want to see them in their finest this is the place to be. When they over-winter in the sea off the UK coast they appear rather drab.
Another bird we had fingers crossed on seeing were Ptarmigan. Again, their winter plumage is totally different than the summer one. In this case winter plumage is far more attractive being pure white to camouflage in the snow.
We were desperate to find one before the change took place.
<untitled> 22016-05-16
With the snow having melted some time earlier in the south west this one was well on it's way, the accompanying female which I failed to get a shot of was already all brown.
Still this sighting was a first for both of us so we were more than delighted.
Generally speaking though there was little to see so we headed off on the main route No1 northwards. A journey that was to take a lot longer than anticipated. Roughly about 400kms the suggested time is around 5 hours. The maximum speed limit is 90 kph, not that fast for the high standard of road. Still, the scenery was stunning and the sun was shining. We stopped for coffee and stopped when we saw a definite pair of great Northerns right by the side of the road in a mountain lake. 
<untitled> 2016-05-16 copy
Sadly, by the time we had stopped and turned around to go back they had sailed off in to the distance. We didn't know it at the time but this was the beginning of the Great Northern Diver obsession, something which in hindsight was probably given an overly amount of our limited time !
Onwards we went eventually arriving in Iceland's second city, Akureyri. 
The capital of Iceland and surrounding district only has a population of around 180,000 so the second city as you can imagine was more like a large town. Set on the side of a fiord the setting is magnificent, better still the water was full of Black Guillemots as well as Tufted and Eider Ducks, unfortunately though it had turned dull and miserable. Still we made an attempt to capture an image or two sometimes less successful than others.
<untitled> 32016-05-16
With the light so flat, the water being highly reflective but still a dark miserable shade, photography was difficult anyway.
<untitled> 42016-05-16 copy
We abandoned the idea deciding to prioritise a visit here on the return journey, fingers crossed for good light!
Before leaving though I snapped a couple of Eider Ducks. Their brilliant white feathering and contrasting black heads are probably easier to expose correctly in duller conditions.
<untitled> 42016-05-16 copy 2
Eider Ducks are not exactly common at home in North Wales whereas in Iceland they are everywhere, even farmed commercially for the downy feathers. Strangely when a bird is so common you tend to leave photographing it until the conditions and surrounds are perfect and in doing so usually come home having not taken a shot of the species. At least I had something "in the can".
Route 1 goes a full circuit of Iceland and once you are driving on it you would think it's straight forward to navigate onward. Not so ! In Akureyri we missed the left hand turn by the traffic lights and carried on blissfully unaware for a good 20 minutes or so. I ignored my own Sat Nav which was indicating we should turn back, I had probably programmed the wrong destination to a village of a similar name elsewhere. However, the road was getting suspiciously less like the main highway and we realised our mistake. Still it had found us our shot of the day, a stunning Black-tailed Godwit in full breeding colours. The light was bad but despite that the radiance of the colour still manages to shine through.
<untitled> 62016-05-16
We filled our boots whilst the bird co-operated fully!
<untitled> 82016-05-16 copy
We were allowed to get out of the car and it still didn't fly. 
<untitled> 242016-05-16
I just wished I had kept the original background in stead of moving.
<untitled> 2016-05-16a

This encounter lifted our spirits considerably.
Bearing in mind we were only in Iceland for 7 days, with 2 already nearly over we didn't have too much to show for it. As we found ourselves back on the right route and heading in to higher ground the weather deteriorated still further. Things were looking a bit grim!
<untitled> 152016-05-16
Mike was driving so I was keeping watch.... 
"There!" "Stop!" I shouted.
Wonderful and just the tonic we needed to turn the day in to more of a success than a disappointment.
One winter coated Ptarmigan which allowed us to get out of the car and approach close enough for a shot.
Stupidly( I later realised!) I crossed the snow to get this one.

<untitled> 232016-05-16
Mike followed my footsteps!
The snow was only a few inches deep but I later spotted several places where a ditch or stream was hidden by the snow and I could have disappeared from view in 10 foot of snow!
Got away with it this time though!!!
Finding our accommodation proved to be the next difficulty but eventually we found the side road leading to a hamlet of 5 houses and a small church. 
Arnes Lodge was one of them.
Arnes Lodge    Iceland
The sign ( photographed a few days later as part of our "bird on a post" enterprise) was well obscured from view set back from the road.
The Lodge was deserted. So was a house by the same name. We tried another house and still no luck.
Fourth time lucky and someone came to the door.
"I'll take you over " he said. "The girl who looks after the place probably isn't there at the moment."
We walked in to the unlocked building, instantly warmed by the heating system it felt really cosy.
"You have booked single rooms I presume? " he stated. Agreeing, he showed us each to our adjoining rooms, the only two singles of the nine in the lodge.
We asked if there was a key and he said there wasn't a need, no-one would steal anything here. 
We asked if it was possible to get something to eat and he said that it wasn't possible as the lady who looks after the place only came in for the breakfast serving. We could however either drive the 15 minutes to Husavik and eat there or buy provisions to cook ourselves in the lodge kitchen.
Too tired to even contemplate self catering we headed off to town and found a half decent place to eat right on the quay side.
Back at the Lodge to which we had sole occupancy we counted our luck. We had found a gem of a place. A little pond outside the house held two Long-tailed Ducks, a species I had only seen for the first time the previous day, never mind photograph. A walk down to the river before bedtime had revealed the surrounding grounds held rich pickings.
We couldn't wait to get at them !
I climbed in to bed with the sun still beaming through a gap in the curtains and it was 10.30pm!
Didn't stop me sleeping though!
Perfect peace!

No comments:

Post a Comment